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The Rise And Fall Of Coal Mining In Kitui County, Kenya


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Kitui County, nestled in the eastern region of Kenya, has been a focal point of  discussion  for its coal mining prospects over the past decade. The discovery of vast coal deposits in the Mui Basin initially ignited hopes for economic development and energy self-sufficiency. However, the story of coal mining in Kitui County is one marked by challenges, controversies, and shifting priorities. In this article, we will explore what happened to coal mining in Kitui County, from its  promising beginnings to the uncertainties of the present.

Around 2010, extensive coal reserves were discovered in Kitui County’s Mui Basin, estimated to be in the billions of metric tons. This discovery presented a ray of hope for Kenya, a nation that relied heavily on imported coal for its energy needs. The potential benefits of coal mining in the region were numerous:

Economic Growth: Coal mining promised to create job opportunities, stimulate local businesses, and bolster the county’s economy . Kitui County anticipated a significant increase in revenue from coal royalties and taxes.

Energy Security: Kenya aimed to reduce its dependence on expensive coal imports by developing its domestic coal resources. The plan included the construction of coal-fired power plants to generate electricity, particularly for rural areas with limited access to power.

However, as the coal mining industry began to take shape in Kitui County, it faced several significant challenges :

Environmental Concerns: Environmentalists and local communities raised alarms about the potential ecological damage caused by mining operations. They were particularly concerned about the impact of coal mining on water sources, soil quality, and air pollution due to the release of harmful particulate matter.

Land Disputes: The process of acquiring land for mining led to disputes and conflicts between mining companies, local communities, and landowners. Many residents feared displacement and the loss of their ancestral lands.

Health Risks: The health risks associated with coal mining, such as respiratory illnesses and water contamination, were a growing concern among residents living near mining sites.

Falling Global Coal Prices: A global decline in coal prices further complicated the viability of coal mining in Kitui County. The reduced profitability made it challenging for mining companies to invest in the necessary infrastructure and meet environmental and safety standards.

Policy Shifts: The Kenyan government faced internal and external pressure to transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources, like wind and solar power. This led to a reevaluation of the country’s coal mining ambitions.

The Present State of Coal Mining in Kitui County

As of the present day, coal mining in Kitui County stands at a crossroads. Several factors have contributed to the uncertainty surrounding its future:

Environmental Regulations: The Kenyan government has imposed stricter environmental regulations on coal mining operations, requiring companies to adhere to higher standards to mitigate environmental damage.

Public Opposition: Local communities and environmental activists continue to voice their opposition to coal mining, putting pressure on both the government and mining companies to address their concerns.

Energy Transition: Kenya has made significant investments in renewable energy sources, making coal less attractive as a long-term energy solution. Wind and solar power projects have gained prominence, reducing the country’s dependence on coal.

Investor Reluctance: Falling global coal prices and growing concerns about the long-term viability of coal as an energy source have made investors hesitant to commit to coal mining projects in Kitui County.

Government Reevaluation: The Kenyan government has initiated a comprehensive review of its energy policies, considering a shift away from coal in favor of cleaner alternatives.

The journey of coal mining in Kitui County, Kenya, from a promising economic opportunity to a source of controversy and uncertainty, reflects the complexities of balancing economic development with environmental and social concerns. While coal mining may have held potential at its inception, it now faces numerous challenges and shifting priorities. The future of coal mining in Kitui County will likely depend on the ability to address these challenges, meet stringent environmental standards, and adapt to a changing global energy landscape.

As Kenya continues to explore alternative, cleaner energy sources and grapple with environmental and social considerations, coal mining in Kitui County remains a contentious issue, emblematic of the broader global debate surrounding the role of coal in the energy transition.

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